The City That Bleeds
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 3rd entry, HBO’s The Wire…
3. The Wire
Creator: David Simon
Stars: Dominic West, Michael K Williams, Wendell Pierce, Idris Elba
Rightly lauded as one of the most important television shows in American history, The Wire’s genius lies in its remit, which involves meeting unvarnished reality head on. David Simon’s crime drama is the ambitious, multifaceted version of his earlier hit series, Homicide: Life on The Street, and its range extends way beyond the post-urban sprawl of Baltimore’s projects, docks and other districts. Its aim is to show that moral ambiguity is only the base on which the drama and its subtexts live – as Simon has often averred, this is about America and its manifest failure, not just of the ‘hoods but across the board. Its understated reportage style, interspersed with moments of extreme violence, coupled with the use of real life Baltimore inhabitants, brings the viewer closer to its players than any other series. Its other departure from the traditional is its absence of hope, and the decision not to front itself – the viewer has to go to it, not the other way around. This is uneasy television, challenging certainly, but also the most rewarding.
Focusing mostly on Baltimore’s police department and the drug-dealing Barksdale gang, the show’s themes quickly become apparent – the situation is intractable and self-perpetuating, and regardless of which side of the law you are on, you are overwhelmingly trapped in something that is rapidly getting further from your control. Characters within the extensive ensemble either have hidden agendas, or are lost and resigned to their powerlessness, but all want to somehow win the “game”, even if they’re not always sure what that is, beyond survival or supremacy – Dominic West’s errant, self-destructive Detective Jimmy McNulty, his long-suffering veteran colleague Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) and their boss Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) are essentially decent characters who are repeatedly undermined by office politics, self-sabotage or outside meddling. While their opposite numbers, such as gang leader Barksdale (Wood Harris), the more corporate-minded Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) or their rival Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) are, despite different mindsets, their mirror image in their attempts to self-validate. It is to the series’ credit that most of the protagonists and antagonists, be they white collar or gang members, do not escape criticism, yet are humanised in turn despite all their flaws, the key villains of the piece being the war on drugs, and the system.
The Wire is a dense, dialogue-heavy work that offers little in the way of traditional signposting, exposition, sensationalism, or audience gratification, which in many ways, despite being on HBO like its contemporary The Sopranos, makes it a radically different proposition for the uninitiated. Even seemingly innocuous conversations can have consequences much later, so attention is required.
The series took chances by featuring a largely African-American cast of then barely known actors, while some of the group (like Elba, West or Aidan Gillen) were from across the pond. The performances of the main and recurring characters were all studies in pared down method, with West and Williams particular highlights, although there were so many others. And the script and general tone was as naturalistic and credible as one could ask for – this is timeless and pivotal television.
The Wire is on Now TV or Sky Box Sets in the UK and on Amazon Prime in the US now
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The City That Bleeds Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 3rd entry, HBO’s The Wire… 3. The WireCreator: David Simon Stars: Dominic West, Michael K Williams, Wendell Pierce, Idris Elba2002-2008 Rightly
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